January 15, 1953 [Broadcast from his office in the White House at 10:30 p.m.] My fellow Americans:
I am happy to have this opportunity to talk to you once more before I leave the White House....
...There are simply a few things in my heart that I want to say to you. I want to say “goodbye” and “thanks for your help.”....
Since I became President, I have been to Europe, Mexico, Canada, Brazil, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands—Wake Island and Hawaii. I have visited almost every State in the Union. I
have traveled 135,000 miles by air, 77,000 miles by rail, and 17,000 by ship...
The greatest part of the President’s job is to make decisions—big ones and small ones, dozens
of them almost every day. The papers may circulate around the Government for a while but they
finally reach this desk...The President...has to decide. He can’t pass the buck to anybody. No one
else can do the deciding for him. That’s his job....
I suppose that history will remember my term in office as the years when the “cold war” began to overshadow our lives. I have had hardly a day in office that has not been dominated by
this all-embracing struggle—this conflict between those who love freedom and those who would
lead the world back into slavery and darkness. And always in the background there was the atomic bomb.
But when history says that my term of office saw the beginning of the cold war, it will also
say that in those 8 years we have set the course that can win it. We have succeeded in carving out
a set of policies to attain peace—positive policies, policies of world leadership, policies that express faith in other free people....
Think about those years of weakness and indecision [the 1930s], and the World War II that was their evil result. Then think about the speed and courage and decisiveness with which we have moved against the Communist threat since World War II....
As I have thought about our worldwide struggle with the Communists these past 8 years—day in and day out—I have never once doubted that you, the people of our country, have the will to do what is necessary to win this terrible fight against communism. I know the people of this country have that will and determination, and I have always depended on it. Because I have been
sure of that, I have been able to make necessary decisions even though they called for sacrifices by all of us. I have not been wrong in my judgment of the American people....
...We are living in the 8th year of the atomic age. We are not the only nation that is learning to
unleash the power of the atom. A third world war might dig the grave not only of our Communist
opponents but also of our own society, our world as well as theirs....
...The Communist world has great resources, and it looks strong. But there is a fatal flaw in their society. Theirs is a godless system, a system of slavery; there is no freedom in it, no consent. The Iron Curtain, the secret police, the constant purges, all these are symptoms of a great basic weakness—the rulers’ fear of their own people....
Whether the Communist rulers shift their policies of their own free will—or whether the
change comes about in some other way—I have not a doubt in the world that a change will occur.
I have a deep and abiding faith in the destiny of free men. With patience and courage, we shall some day move on into a new era...an age when we can use the peaceful tools that science
has forged for us to do away with poverty and human misery everywhere on earth....
I’ve talked a lot tonight about the menace of communism—and our fight against it—because that is the overriding issue of our time. But there are some other things we’ve done that history will record...
We have 62½ million people at work. Businessmen, framers, laborers, white-collar people,
all have better incomes and more of the good things of life than ever before in the history of the
There hasn’t been a failure of an insured bank in nearly 9 years...
And the income of our people has been fairly distributed, perhaps more so than at any other
time in recent history.
We have made progress in spreading the blessings of American life to all of our people.
There has been a tremendous awakening of the American conscience on the great issues of civil
tunities for all our people, whatever their race or religion or status of birth....
....We [President and Mrs. Truman] feel we have done our best in the public service. I hope and believe we have contributed to the welfare of this Nation and to the peace of the world....
...I have tried to give it everything that was in me.
Through all of it,… I have been well aware I did not really work alone—that you were working with me....
For that I shall be grateful, always....
The President’s Farewell Address to the American People
January 15, 1953
Using President Truman’s speech as a reference source, answer each question.
*Note: Some responses are based on current events that may require additional research in a textbook or on the internet.
Questions: The President’s Farewell Address to the American People. 1. President Truman mentioned that he had visited Wake Island. Why did he go to Wake Island?
2. According to Truman, the major responsibility of the president is to make decisions. List five
decisions made by President Truman that you consider to be historic.
3. President Truman speaks of the policies that the United States had in place to combat communism. Specifically, what plans was he referring to?
4. In 1953, the United States was the only nation to have detonated an atomic weapon. Today we worry about other countries that have nuclear weapon capability. List the countries that, by their own declaration, possess nuclear weapons as of the 21st century.
5. According to Truman, communism had a “fatal flaw.” What was that “fatal flaw”?
6. According to President Truman, what changes would a country undergo if a communist government seized power?
a. What did happen to the Soviet Union?
b. Is there a country today that has the same “flaw” as the communist nations of the 1950s?
7. Although foreign affairs occupied much of Truman’s time and attention, he was also proud of his domestic record.
a. What examples did he use to show the effectiveness of his domestic policies?
b. Which of these are still social issues we deal with today?
Bonus question: How do historians rate Harry S. Truman’s presidential leadership today?
The President’s Farewell Address to the American People
January 15, 1953
Answer key: 1. The President went to Wake Island on October 14, 1950 to discuss the progress of the Korean War with General Douglas MacArthur. The Wake Island meeting was the first and would be the last time Truman and the General met face to face. 2. A few of the decisions made by President Truman might include: using the atomic bomb to end WWII, ordering food and other necessities to be airlifted into Berlin, issuing Executive Order 9981 which desegregated the military, recognition of the newly created nation of Israel, committing troops to Korea, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the creation of the United Nations. 3. To halt the spread of communism,Truman was referring to the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, the North Atlantic Pact, military aid programs, and the Rio Pact. 4. United States, Britain, France, Russia, China, India, North Korea and Pakistan have declared nuclear weapon capability. 5. President Truman believed that communism would eventually destroy itself because it is “a godless system.” The people have no freedom or voice in their own government. Eventually the rulers will be forced to make changes – either by a revolution from within or because the rulers themselves decide to change. 6. If a country would fall to the communists, the people would be ruled by intimidation and fear. A secret police would enforce the will of government officials because they are scared to let the people have any freedoms or a voice in governing the country. a. As of December 1991 the Soviet Union ceased to exist. Fifteen separate countries were formed from the former Soviet Union. b. Answers will vary but might include China, Cuba, Laos, North Korea and Vietnam are possible choices. 7. a. President Truman pointed out that 62½ million people were employed; income was higher than ever before; 9 years had passed without a bank failure; and, distribution of income was fairer “than at any other time in recent history.” He also mentioned the progress that had been made in civil rights. b. Answers will vary. Possible choices students might use would be unemployment,uneven distribution of income and taxes, and further progress needs to be made incivil rights. Bonus question: Historians rank Harry Truman as fifth (#5) in presidential leadership. For more information on rating our presidents, go to: http://www.americanpresidents.org/survey